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Thursday, March 29, 2007


Travellers' ripoffs 2 – 'my sister's visiting your country'

This is my third visit to Malaysia. Altogether I've spent about seven months or so here. I've had ample time to observe the way Malaysians behave differently from people in other South-east Asian countries. One example is that Malaysian women do not initiate conversation with strange men.

In Thailand or Cambodia if I happen to find myself sitting on a bus next to a woman I've never met before, it is quite common for a conversation to ensue. In Malaysia, even men don't usually chat under these circumstances.

It is therefore memorable when one, two or three women initiate a conversation. This has now happened to me three times, always in KL. And three times, after some friendly chit-chat, a story was told of a sister visiting my country and of a mother worried about her safety and would I mind meeting the mother and reassuring her that the sister is safe.

I'm aware that this is a scam. It's documented in the Lonely Planet guidebook. I'm aware that, should I try to help, I'll probably be invited to join in a friendly card game, be given a spiked drink and end up losing a considerable sum of money. Obviously, I don't take up the offer.

The fact that this has now happened to me three times in a total of no more than two weeks in KL suggests a number of things: this practice must be happening fairly regularly and it must often be successful; otherwise why would it continue?

This can't be giving Malaysian tourism a very positive image.

The question I have to ask is: why haven't the police stamped out this scam? I assume it's illegal or believe it should be. And if I can find these women so easily (or they me) why can't the Malaysian police?

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